The Pentagon’s F-35 Lightning II has been test-flying in extreme heat, artic cold, rain, humidity, ice and desert winds in a specially engineered climactic laboratory hangar at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida -- as a way to prepare and certify the new aircraft to fly into any corner of the world.
“They have been testing since September of last year. They are seeing how the components handle a range of weather conditions. In the hangar they can replicate harsh desert winds and sun along with freezing rain conditions,” said Joe DellaVedova, F-35 program spokesman.
With 13 countries currently involved with the program, the F-35 must be tested in meteorological conditions representative of those locations from which it will operate, ranging from the heat of the Outback of Australia to the bitter cold of the Arctic Circle above Canada and Norway, an F-35 program office statement said.
The Air Force’s 96th Test Wing’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory, located at Eglin Air Force Base, is the world’s largest climactic testing chamber. It is designed to replicate the full range of potential weather conditions in which the F-35 might need to fly, DellaVedova said.
“We’ve designed an environment here at the chamber where we can simulate virtually any weather condition—all while flying the jet at full power in either conventional or vertical takeoff mode,” Dwayne Bell, McKinley Climatic Laboratory technical chief, said in a written statement.
The ongoing tests are part of a six-month long assessment of the F-35’s ability to perform in wind, solar radiation, fog, humidity, rain, ice build-up, vortex icing and snow, officials said.
The testing includes flying the aircraft in extreme temperatures ranging from 120-degress Fahrenheit to minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the testing, the aircraft is basically flying in place, meaning it is tethered down but fully powered up, allowing testers to simulate meteorological conditions with an operational aircraft, DellaVedova explained.
“To this point, the aircraft’s performance is meeting expectations”, said F-35 test pilot Billie Flynn. “It has flown in more than 100 degree heat while also flying in bitter subzero temperatures. In its final days of testing, it will fly through ice and other conditions such as driving rain with hurricane force winds.”
The F-35 program is beginning to analyze the results of the ongoing test with a mind to making any adjustments that might be needed for the aircraft to maximize performance in various environments and climates across the globe.
“The jet tested really well during hot temperature testing. In cold weather the oil did not flow as well. They are learning and testing,” DellaVedova said.
Every aircraft in the DoD inventory has gone through climactic testing at the climactic laboratory at Eglin, which was completed in 1947 just after the end of WWII.
Since December 2006, the F-35 Lightning II has surpassed 25,000 combined flight hours with 16,200 hours in the F-35 military fleet aircraft and 8,950 hours of system development and demonstration testing, F-35 officials said.
The F-35 has completed multiple weapons tests as well as F-35B and F-35C first-life durability testing. Additionally, the test fleet has conducted two F-35B sea trials aboard a large amphibious assault ship – the USS WASP (LHD 1), and last November the F-35C completed its first sea trial aboard an aircraft carrier – the USS Nimitz.